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November 1st, 2008

Elephants and Flying Fish

Oh, the Machines de l'Ile de Nantes!

It's not just the elephant, although the elephant was grand. It's the giant blue crab and the giant squid and the (giant) anglerfish and the (also giant) fish of unknown origins with the little feet underneath. They're all destined, eventually, to decorate a huge and phenomenally complex carrousel, which will forever redefine what is meant by carrousel, if I understand the drawings correctly. But at the moment, they're displayed in a gallery attached to the workshop where more creatures are being built, and you can ride in them and work their legs and feelers and tentacles and fins as they putter back and forth on tracks in the floor.

We had been invited to tag along with Robin Hobb and a delightful young woman called Annaig (imagine two dots over the i--it's a Breton name) on this expedition, and so got to watch Robin ensconced in the angler fish, twiddling its tail and left-hand fin while it twirled in a stately manner, wagging its jaw and emitting bursts of steam from time to time. There was someone else on the other fin, another on the jaw, another on the steam and the light dangling overhead, another on the spiny back. And all of them, adults and kids alike, were laughing delightedly. Greg Bear piloted the crab (sideways, bien sur), grinning happily. I have many pictures, which I haven't had time to look at yet.

After that, I have to say that the elephant ride came as somewhat of an anti-climax. Yes, it's super-cool. Yes, it's super-giant. But when you're riding it, mostly you're looking at the scenery, and the scenery was basically a building site with a few young trees planted here and there, and an industrial park. There was also a very cool small carrousel featuring such unusual mounts as a winged unicorn and a heron and a seahorse and a large beetle, with lady bugs for the littlest riders, but we passed that very soon. Plus, it was cold. Cold in the belly of the elephant, very cold on the little balconies on his sides, freezing beyond belief on the howdah perched on his mighty back. Also, spitting rain. The four of us rode mostly inside, stamping our feet and watching the slow slide and pump of the complex mechanisms driving each of the elephant's feet, and admiring the hydraulics that maneuvered his head--or would have, had they been working.

And then it was over, and we drove back to Nantes for some galettes (buckwheat flour crepes, stuffed with things like cheese and spinach and eggs) and Breton cider (which is hard, but not very) and conversation. Annaig speaks lovely English, which was a good rest before the total immersion of going into the bar at the con, where I met a bunch of French fantasy writers and fans and was immediately stretched to my verbal limits. Have I said before how frustrating it is to be in the middle of a really interesting and sophisticated discussion of fantasy, able to catch about 3/4 of it and only able to think of maybe 1/4 of the words I need to say what I mean? Yeah, well, and I'll probably say it again, too. Aargh.

It was even worse when I sat down with Anne Fakhouri, author of a new YA about a changeling (!), Le Clairvoyage, who is tres sympa, as they say over here--a long-lost soul sister who knows a great deal about folklore and is very, very interesting on the subject of fairy tales and history and, well, everything I like to talk about. We waved our hands around and babbled in two languages and ended up very pleased with each other.

And then we came back to the hotel and totally crashed, blowing off a publishing dinner and the chance of more wonderful food and drink and conversation. But hey, you gotta pace yourself, you know. And I'm much more chipper today, and ready to take on all comers, language-wise. I even had a dream in French last night--probably bad French, but it's a start, eh?

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